So… You want to be a digital nomad? Are you sure? Okay okay, no more basic questions. You’re committed to the cause already. No need to convince you. You already want to become a digital nomad, but how?
There are many roads to Digital Nomad City, but I’m going to try to recommend to you some basics to get your journey started.
Step #1: Determine Your Nomad Type
All digital nomads are the same, right? Wrong! There are many types of digital nomads, and each type behaves quite differently during their journey.
Types of Digital Nomads
Semi-Nomads are the most common type of digital nomad given that many people take work-vacation trips. Yes, you’re a nomad!
Semi-Nomads usually choose destinations inside of their home country which makes it easy for trip times and their home country conveniences. Sometimes they will take a trip abroad, but somewhere outside of their general timezone (+/- 3 hours) can get complicated for their work schedule.
Movers are what you typically think of when the word “digital nomad” comes to mind. They’re usually not far from a huge backpacker’s backpack that includes only what they truly need. All of their important things that are too big to travel with get left at “home” with their parents or a friend.
Typical stay lengths for a Mover are under 3 weeks, and they are notorious for having tourist visas and not many empty passport pages wherever they go!
Homebase +1 nomads are those who look for a little piece of stability while working abroad. Although they might travel around a certain region of the world like Southeast Asia, they declare one country outside of their home country their “homebase”. For example, many digital nomads in Asia have a homebase with a long-term apartment rental or lease in a city like Bangkok, Thailand while they travel to other countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
The homebase + 1 nomads really love the country that they’re homebasing from OR they are there for the convenience for their job type (i.e. clients are located in a similar timezone). Whatever the reason, these nomads struggle with finding long-term visa opportunities and residencies that can support their situation. They also might even look to purchase property in the homebase country as a way to reduce their long-term housing costs.
Full-on Expats are the ones who say “I’m never living in the home country again!”. What happens most is they sell everything in their home country or ship everything to their planned country in anticipation of never coming back. They are typically older and have jobs that can be mostly online or with clients located in a certain country. These nomads are the least “nomadic” in that they typically like to establish themselves in one country to get roots there, either for personal or professional reasons. These nomads are the most likely to gain some level of fluency in the local language of their home base country.
There are many places with amazing expat communities that support each other in finding jobs and maintaining their residency in the foreign country. There are many ways to start your full-on expat nomad journey, so please check out some of the resources below for full-on expat nomads!
Step #2: Secure Your Income
Whether you’re starting a new job entirely or transitioning your current one to being nomad-friendly, make sure you’re able to:
- Get paid online with tools like PayPal, Upwork, Fiverr, and Venmo.
- Have some backup savings just in case your income drops suddenly.
You cannot be reckless when starting your digital nomad journey. Although it might be appealing to just say f*ck it to your job and start traveling, you still need to find some source of solid income to justify at least a $30/day budget. There are many ways to get to $30/day, and I’d HIGHLY recommend that you get up to a minimum of $100/day of purely online income before traveling.
Step #3: Get Financial Products That Support Nomad Life
Not all banks will like that you travel abroad. In fact, the online bank that I first traveled (Aspiration) with didn’t like that at all! So I had to switch checking accounts once I was abroad, and it was very stressful when you are not sure if you can access your money.
Call up your banks and ask them if there are any restrictions on using your credit cards, debit cards, and other services (insurance) when you’re traveling. You don’t want to have to figure this out when you’re abroad, trust me. It sucks and is super stressful.
Make sure you get a money transfer service like Wise as it will be your godsend if you need to get some money to a friend or have it sent to you. Also, look for a really good checking account with low (or zero) ATM withdrawal fees abroad.
Step #4: Make a Budget
I like to make a $30 daily budget that works in the following:
- Accommodation: $12/day
- Food: $8/day
- Transportation: $5/day
- Fun: $5/day
For you, this might be less or more considering where you’re at with your financial situation, but a daily budget is a good thing to have. I recommend that you use Personal Capital to track your finances and budget. It automatically connects to your bank accounts and downloads the latest transactions for you to analyze against your plan.
Step #5: Plan Your First Location
Woof. Easier said than done! There are so many locations to go to. Places to see! Foods to eat! Languages to learn!
I’d recommend that for your first trip you go somewhere not too wild. Ease your way into the digital nomad life. For Americans, this might mean somewhere like Mexico (if you speak Spanish), Canada, or Puerto Rico. For Europeans, this might mean one of the plethora of close-by countries like Spain, Portugal (a current favorite amongst nomads), or France.
Try looking at how much accommodation will be as this will mostly determine where you’ll stay. For example, don’t travel to New York City thinking that you’ll be staying in a $10/night hostel. Think more like $120/night…
Also, go where you’ll…
- Have a ton of fun!
- Have fast internet
- Have relatively high power for your currency
To pick a good place, Nomadlist does have some nicely curated information about individual cities around the world.
Step #6: (Option) Find a Travel Buddy
Starting your nomad journey with your honey bunny is a delightful adventure, but if you don’t have a traveling gf/bf to go with you, see if any other people are itching to take the dip, even if it’s just to go on a vacation for themselves while you’re nomading.
Also, don’t be afraid to find a travel buddy once you’re abroad. When I was in Manila, Philippines, I met a wonderful travel buddy at my hostel in Makati with whom I traveled throughout the southern Philippines. Was I scared to travel with them? A bit at the start, yeah, but we established some trust by asking a lot of questions and getting some dinners around the hostel.
Make sure you vet them with probing questions to make sure they’re not creepers, because, you know… People be creepy. Don’t be a creep!
I will say that having a travel buddy reduces your risk and gives you a level of emotional support when doing the nomad life. If you didn’t know already, loneliness is one of the top 5 problems for digital nomads.
Step #7: Book It
DO IT! JUMP! You’ve had that Google Flights browser tab open for so long that the deals are no longer what you were looking for. But you know what, you just need to know one thing:
You can also stop nomadding. No shame. No harm, no foul.
If stuff goes south, you can always come back. Don’t worry! Well… worry a bit, but not too much.
Book that flight, grab your travel buddy, bring some cash, and start your digital nomad journey!